A co-worker friend of mine, David, came to my office today. He closed my door. He was close to tears.
“How did you do it?” he asked. “When Kathleen was here?”
Kathleen is my now-retired boss. Her psychosis was well-known to people at the company and in the community. Fuck, maybe even to people on Mars.
Word of the mental instability of David’s new boss, Rich, was starting to spread as well. I wasn’t surprised David sought me out. I had survived five years under Kathleen. Four assistants, three communications directors, five part-timers and when she left, I was the last one standing. That makes me a bit of a local celebrity. In fact, at the local Blimpie there’s a sub named "Mrs. Mullet Can Take a Beating."
“David,” I said, “if you want it to work, you have to go dead inside. You have to befriend your abuser. Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?”
He sat down. “I think about killing him,” he said. “I’m a father. I shouldn’t be thinking of running someone over with my car.”
“It’s ok,” I said. “I thought about rat poison and antifreeze. I still think about it, and she’s gone.”
I felt immense sadness for him. Having a tyrant of a boss can turn your life upside-down. Screw shitty health insurance, these pariahs are what make the workplace insufferable. You can take your Lit 101s and your History 203s and shove them. If you’re going to enter the workforce, what you really need in college is “How to survive the many personalities of your supervisor.”
Then you need, “How to survive when your bipolar boss is best friends with HR and the CEO.” And then you need, “How to talk your spouse out of attacking your bipolar boss with a baseball bat after you come home in tears again.”
Is quitting your job an option? Sure, quitting is always an option. But if you’ve worked hard to get where you are and you have a good thing going—excuse me, had—then you have every right to stay where you are.
David supports his family; quitting isn’t an option for him.
For fun, David and I sat down and compared notes. The more we talked, the more it became glaringly obvious that his boss and my former boss had eerily similar personalities. They were both:
#1 Grossly insecure
If my boss wore a new outfit to work and no one complimented her on it, she’d call another supervisor and cry that her staff didn’t support her. When David’s boss Rich introduced him to his wife, Rich asked in all seriousness, “Aren’t I the better looking one?”
#2 Housing multiple personalities
Kathleen praised my work one day; trashed it the next. Ditto for Rich.
#3 Lacking closure from childhood
Kathleen once suggested a “getting to know you” bagel session to build inter-personal relationships. During her “favorite childhood memory,” she burst into tears and told us how her parents left her at the babysitters’ all the time. I hadn’t even cream-cheesed my bagel yet. David’s boss swears he “constructively builds people up” because he never got it from his dad. Mmmmhmm.
#4 Brilliant, adept liars with selective memory
These people are such good liars they’d pass a polygraph test. Their selective recollection of events and conversations suits their agenda and is so finely tuned, the idea of truth is laughable.
#5 Narcissistically blind to the effects of their abuse
Once, after making a co-worker cry, Kathleen said, “How do you think I feel knowing I made you cry?” After giving David a crappy performance evaluation that prevented him from getting a raise, Rich asked, “Are you okay, David? Is something on your mind? I’m worried about you.”
Both Kathleen and Rich said they wanted more teamwork, but if they walked by an office where their underlings were talking, they’d later remind everyone that they were the boss and that office chatter shouldn’t be going on without them.
When Kathleen wanted to get rid of me, she suggested I move to a different office so I’d get more visibility. The new office didn’t have a working phone and I mysteriously lost access to my files. When I missed deadlines and calls from reporters, Kathleen told the CEO I was dropping the ball and should be let go. Rich employed tactics from #3 to cover up his backhanded moves.
Just.Wow. Kathleen didn't know how to save a file under a different name. Rich often drew circles to illustrate his "complex" ideas.
Year after year we send college graduates out into the workforce unprepared for what may be their biggest workforce challenge. It's a travesty. These a-holes plague harmless people day in and day out, and no one does a thing.
I bet my little list is only the tip of the iceberg. The tippity, rat poisoned, antifreezed, brakes cut, tip tip.